Want to attract fan-page followers? Here's how

12 January 2018

To use social media effectively, companies must first understand what users do online, and how they feel about company content, advises Hamidreza Shahbaznezhad.

Are you a Quiet Follower, a Cheerleader or a Peacock? Clue: these categories – created by a Business School researcher – reflect how some people behave on the so-called fan pages of companies they follow on social media.

Among other things, the researcher, doctoral candidate Hamidreza Shahbaznezhad, wanted to know how firms could engage current followers and attract new ones. Short answer: by creating catchy content that will generate a buzz among followers which, in turn, will attract new fans.

To better understand the secret behind the success of popular fan pages, he analysed data from the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram fan pages of 36 international airlines.

“I chose airlines because customers monitor them frequently via social media, and are especially sensitive to airlines’ service," says Shahbaznezhad, who is based at the Business School's Centre of Digital Enterprise.

He says social media is an increasingly important communication channel between companies and customers, and airlines are no exception. For example, between early 2014 and late 2017, Air New Zealand’s Twitter followers increased from 275,000 to 646,000, while the company's Facebook followers grew from about 700,000 to 1.5 million.

“Social media also has the potential to influence firms’ bottom lines and their brand image. But less than one percent of firms’ followers actively engage, and there is little research to guide firms’ social media strategy,” he says.

For one study, Shahbaznezhad analysed activity on the Twitter accounts of Air New Zealand and Jetstar over five years, focusing on followers who had made at least one comment, hashtag, retweet or “like” in that period (4196 on Air New Zealand and 539 on Jetstar).

 In line with earlier research, he found the fans fell into seven categories.

• 'Quiet Followers' seldom participated in the promotional events of companies.

• 'Cheerleaders' participated actively, and dedicated most of their comments and sharing to just one company.

• 'Loyal Fans' also joined in and followed posts frequently.

• 'Super Loyal Fans' – often employees – used all available features to promote events and were mostly active on a single fan page.

• 'Peacocks' were active across many fan pages, suggesting their motivation was to increase their own exposure and follower count.

•'Casual Learners' were moderately active, but frequently hit 'favourite' and 'retweet' on company tweets.

• 'Casual Writers' were the opposite of Casual Learners.

Shahbaznezhad then analysed which fans the airlines 'followed back', and found, counter-intuitively, that they were more likely to be Quiet Followers.

“This may be because some of the Cheerleaders will be company staff or associates, and by following them the company may signal to customers that the person is an ‘agent’, which would undermine his or her positive influence.” 

He also discovered differences between the airlines. Air New Zealand – a full service airline – appeared to follow fans who were creating or sharing a wide variety of content, ranging from safety videos and deals to people’s flying experience. Budget airline Jetstar, by contrast, tended to follow fans who focused on operational issues, such as deals, services, and flight information.

In another study, Shahbaznezhad analysed the Twitter fan pages of the 36 international airlines to tease out what attracted new followers. He found that the airlines which were best at this also covered the widest range of topics on their fan pages.

“By comparing topics it pushes, and those raised by users on fan pages, a company can find the gaps and refocus its content generation to close those gaps,” says Shahbaznezhad.

Using publicly available social media data from Facebook and Instagram in 2016, Shahbaznezhad also looked at the impact on user engagement of the type, format, and freshness of company posts.

He found that information-based posts, such as schedule updates, drew more comments but fewer 'likes'. Sales-related posts, such as competitions and special offers, got more comments and a greater proportion of positive comments, as did entertaining posts, such as the Air New Zealand safety videos. Videos attracted more positive comments than did photos, and Facebook posts sparked comments while Instagram posts got more 'likes'.

Hamidreza Shahbaznezhad

Hamidreza Shahbaznezhad is a doctoral candidate at the University of Auckland Business School.



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